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STRANGE ADVENTURES #11
"The Day the Past Came Back!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND

August 1951; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor (though Whitney Ellsworth is credited as editor in the indicia); featuring Captain Comet in "The Day the Past Came Back!", along with three other science-fictional sagas. Review by Bill Henley

The cover depicts Captain Comet confronting a dinosaur in front of what looks like the Capitol dome. (Actually, my copy of the issue is coverless, so I'm indebted to the Gerber Photo-Journal Guide for this description.)

There's been some talk here on the list and elsewhere of "prototypes" of various Silver Age characters. Captain Comet, who appeared in most issues of DC's sci-fi title STRANGE ADVENTURES between #9, June 1951, and #49, Oct. 1954, could be said to be a "prototype" for the whole Silver Age. He was edited by Julius Schwartz, written by John Broome (under the pseudonym of "Edgar Ray Merritt", for some reason-- possibly a tribute to SF/fantasy writers Edgar Rice Burroughs and A. Merritt and SF editor Ray Palmer), often drawn by Murphy Anderson-- Silver Age stalwarts all-- and, though he didn't survive into the Silver Age proper, he presaged the style of character and storytelling that Schwartz and company would adopt for their Silver Age revivals of Flash, Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman. If you want to stretch things, you could also call Captain Comet a "prototype" for the X-Men, since he was a mutant-- a "man of the future" born with the abilities that all humans would supposedly possess 100,000 years from now. Here's a review of the earliest issue of STRANGE ADVENTURES that I own.

"The Day the Past Came Back" is credited to "Edgar Ray Merritt" (Broome) but I don't recognize the artist (it doesn't look like Murphy Anderson). On the splash page, a symbolically gigantic figure of Capt. Comet towers over a chaotic, wrecked cityscape with dinosaurs and apes on the rampage. "In the Hall of Fossils at the City Museum", a guide giving his spiel on the reconstructed skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex is nonplussed when a real, live Tyrannosaurus Rex makes an appearance. As the crowds flee in terror and museum guards empty their guns fruitlessly at the beast, "quiet-mannered Adam Blake" observes events from his post of duty at the nearby city library. Donning the red spacesuit outfit of his alter ego Captain Comet, Blake races into the museum and rescues the guards who are held in the grip of the terrible lizard. The Captain picks up the saurian bodily and smashes it down; "Hard to stop a dinosaur with bullets-- because its brain is so tiny! But a good smash on the head should do the trick!" As the guards truss up the dinosaur with steel cables, Comet reflects, "Ironic that an animal from the deepest past should come to grips with ME...a man from the distant future! There must be MILLIONS of YEARS of EVOLUTION between us!" Then a radio broadcast from "Capitol City" is interrupted, and Capt. Comet spots red clay on the monster's feet of "exactly the kind found between here and Capitol City", leading him to conclude that "something awful has happened in Capitol City!"

Then Comet is accosted by Professor Zackro, the white-haired, mustached scientist who is the only man that knows Captain Comet's secret identity as Adam Blake and his origin as a mutated "future man". Zackro reveals that a former colleague, the "odd, brilliant" Dr. Alex Philador, created an "evolution-reverser ray" that could revert life-forms of the present to their earlier evolutionary forms, such as turning a bird into a fish. Zackro had urged Philador to destroy the "useless-- even dangerous" device, but obviously he did not, for the Tyrannosaurus obviously can only be the product of Philador's ray operating on a modern reptile. And Philador was last heard of in Capitol City. Setting off on foot to reach the capital, with "the speed of the flaming missile whose name he bears", Capt. Comet arrives to find a brontosaurus and apes wandering the streets. "Some of the inhabitants of the city have been turned into apes-- moved backward down the ladder of evolution!" (Actually, if these are supposed to be Washington, D.C. politicians, it might be an improvement...) Comet is surrounded by a ring of apes, who "naturally hate man-- their hereditary enemy", but he easily fends them off with his "mind over matter" powers, until he himself experiences the "indescribable feeling" of being turned into an ape. As the Ape of the Future, he becomes the "ringleader" of the other apes, and leads them in a fight against the brontosaurus, until a chance sighting of the name "Philador" on a mailbox reminds him dimly of his purpose. Hearing the devolved Capt. Comet talking to himself, the mad Dr. Philador captures him, thinking he has recreated the missing link between ape and man-- "the First Man-- the new Adam!" Explaining himself to his caged "new Adam", Philador declares that "I am sending life back to prehistoric times! Mankind is evil! It must be wiped out-- and start over again to reach perfection!" Much to Philador's surprise, however, Capt. Comet bends his cage bars and escapes while saying, "You made a slight error in your calculations, Dr. Philador!" It seems that the good Captain's futuristic brain is so advanced that, even when evolution-reversed, it took only a short period of readjustment for his mind to again function "far ahead" of ordinary humans. Fleeing in panic, Philador accidentally falls under the influence of his own ray and is devolved into a small monkey. Then, examining Philador's equipment, Comet deduces that it works by "affecting the genes by radiation" (Editor's Note-- "Genes are the carriers of hereditary traits in all living things") and makes a "simple adjustment" which reverses the effect of the ray, turning apes (including the good Captain himself) back into men and dinosaurs back into "harmless lizards". After the re-evolved Philador is "found and jailed for his crimes against humanity" (is there a specific law against turning people into apes?) Capt. Comet reflects to Prof. Zackro that Philador's attempt to create "perfection" was "wild-- and evil! Mankind must progress slowly-- and safely!" Back in the library, fellow librarian Miss Torrence tells Adam Blake "You always miss all the excitement!" and proceeds to tell him about Captain Comet's latest exploit.

The second story in the issue is "The Reign of the Elephants!", written by Manly Wade Wellman (each of the stories in this issue has a writer credit, though not an artist credit, and I can't identify any of the artists) Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) had a long career as an SF/fantasy prose writer and is best known to today's readers as the author of the "Silver John the Balladeer" series of stories and novels about a guitar-playing mountaineer who wanders the hills battling various occult evils. Wellman also did considerable comics writing in the 1940's and early 50's, including a number of "Spirit" stories during the wartime period when Will Eisner was away from the strip. On the splash page, a man emerging from a time capsule is startled to find an elephant reaching for him with its trunk, as another elephant is seen wearing a watch and still another is riding on a motor-scooter like vehicle. Clay Parks, the protagonist of the story suffers from a "mysterious malady" which puts him into a coma-like sleep but keeps him alive and unaged indefinitely. After watching him for a lifetime, doctors finally place Parks in a time capsule with a control he can use to emerge if and when he finally awakens. But when he does awaken, he is puzzled to find himself surrounded by elephants. "Are they holding a circus here? Where's the tent? Where are the clowns? I DON'T SEE ANYBODY EXCEPT ELEPHANTS!" He is further confused as he sees the elephants operating motor vehicles and observes that he is in a city of "big, heavy-built, low buildings" constructed to house elephants, not people. Finally, the elephants attach him to a "thought-transmission" device and provide him with an explanation. It seems that the human race is extinct-- "wars, plagues and famines wiped it out!"-- and elephants, who have developed "nearly human" brains and dexterous, hand-like trunks, have replaced men as the dominant species. The last man nearly succumbs to despair-- "Alone! No fellow man left on Earth! I might as well have died with the others!" -- but recovers and accepts a place in the elephant society reading old books "from the days of dead humanity" and explaining obscure points.

Then the elephant Science Council calls on Parks for help to meet a new crisis... mysterious visitors from space have landed on Earth, are observing the elephants closely and have driven some of them back with "flashes of fire". What is going on? It's an invasion from space, Parks warns, and if the elephants want to keep the world they have inherited, they had better learn the arts of war, which they previously never needed. Parks helps the elephants build a defensive wall around their city and lay explosive mines, and then goes to spy on the invaders and learn more about them. But when he encounters one of the "invaders", it is a very human girl! Using a thought-transfer device to converse with her, Parks learns that humanity evolved separately on a faraway world, and now the people of that world are coming to colonize Earth. Clay Parks finds himself facing a dilemma; will he side with humans like himself, though they come from another planet, or with the kindly and peaceful elephants who, like him, are "natives of Mother Earth"? As both the humans and a captured elephant make their claims on Parks' loyalty, he makes his decision, and leads the human army past the elephants' defenses into their city. But then, suddenly, Parks warns the humans to halt; they are surrounded by elephants, and moreover they are in a courtyard mined with explosives that can be set up at the touch of a button. Using the thought-transfer device that is "attuned to the elephants' thoughts," Parks has warned them of the impending attack. Has he betrayed the humans? Not exactly; his purpose is to convince the human "invaders" that man and elephant can live in peace and share the Earth between them. Parks succeeds in brokering a peace treaty between the races, and man shakes trunk in token of agreement. "Peace on Earth, brotherhood of man and beast" is achieved, and Parks lives out his life in the company of Lylla, the girl he first met, as men and elephants form a society of mutual aid. (This story presages the themes of the later "Planet of the Apes" novel and movies, though with a different successor species-- and a more optimistic ending...)

Next up is "Prophecy of Doom!", written by someone named Gardner F. Fox... I wonder what ever happened to him? "Would you want to know when you're going to die? Dave Sanders found out, and for the rest of his life he fought to escape the grim prophecy that the time-calculator made! When the predicted date of his dying day came and went and he was still alive, Dave thought he had escaped his fate-- BUT-- HAD HE?" One day, Sanders is accosted by Professor Morley who warns him not to step into his own car; "Your car is going to be in a bad accident a few minutes from now!" Sanders doesn't believe him, but while the two men are arguing, a thief steals Sanders' car and drives away, only to crash into a truck. Now more impressed, Sanders asks how Professor Morley knew what was going to happen, and Morley explains he has invented a device called a "time-calculator" that can predict the future. Wanting more proof, Sanders urges Morley to "make it tell me when I'm going to die!" "You're joking! No man wants to know when his time is up! He'd go mad!" But Sanders insists, and Morley finally consents, but after all the relevant information on Sanders is fed into Morley's "calculator", it comes out with a seemingly impossible result: Sanders will die on December 5, 1961 (remember this story was published in 1951), 'in the ruins of the fifth canal-- ON THE PLANET MARS!'" Sanders laughs at the professor's "crackpot" prophecy, and as he returns to his job as a scientist at the Brookhaven Laboratories (an institution that really exists), he reassures himself over the years that space travel is progressing too slow for anyone to reach Mars by the year 1961. But then, in 1960, a Professor Ehrighausen comes up with a method of space travel using "magnetic lines of force", and promises that within a year it will enable men to travel to Mars. As his predicted fate begins to seem more like a real possibility, Sanders visits a nightclub, is caught in a crossfire in a gangland raid, and fears he has met his doom, for the nightclub is called "Marrs"! But he survives... and when space travel becomes a reality and Sanders is offered command of the first expedition to Mars, he refuses and resigns, remaining Earthbound but safe. Taking a job as a technical adviser on a "Man From Mars" movie, Sanders is nearly killed by an exploding spaceship prop... then he almost falls victim to an armed lunatic at "Ma's Diner". Finally he takes refuge at a mountain resort far away from anything remotely "Martian", and on the appointed day of his death, December 5, 1961, he stays indoors all day. When the day passes without incident, Sanders rejoices, decides he has escaped the "prophecy" really was in error and he can now travel into space-- even to Mars-- without fearing doom. Rejoining Prof. Ehrighausen on the red planet, Sanders fearlessly participates in the colonization effort-- until he is accidentally mortally wounded during a scientific test in the desert. But how can the prophecy be coming true when the appointed date is months past? Well, it seems that while an Earth year is 365 days, a Martian year-- the time it takes Mars to circle the sun-- is almost twice as long at 687 days. The Martian colonists have had to add eleven additional months to their calendar, and "today is really December 5, 1961-- MARS TIME!" (This story is somewhat reminiscent of "Lifeline", the first published story of the great SF writer Robert A. Heinlein, which also involves the invention of a device that can predict the date of a person's death-- though the plot based on that premise was entirely different.)

The final story in this issue, "The Missing Moon!" is one of "The Adventures of Chris KL-99"-- a series that appeared only in the first few issues of STRANGE ADVENTURES-- and is written by Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton was another writer with distinguished careers in both science fiction and comics, producing classic "space opera" yarns for the SF pulp magazines of the 1930's and 40's, and also writing Superman, Batman, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and other comics features for DC. Chris KL-99, described as "The Columbus of the Future", is a space explorer who is accompanied by his "loyal comrades" Halk, the red Martian, and Jero, of Venus. On a "routine space-exploration trip", Chris visits an ancient planet whose natives are great astronomers and have kept photographic records for ages. They show him a photo of Earth "a million years ago" which so startles Chris that he rushes back to Earth to show scientists his discovery. It seems that, in that distant era, the Earth had two moons! What happened to the spare? "For some unknown reason the smaller moon broke away from Earth and hurtled into space!" But Chris is able to calculate and follow the missing moon's trajectory through space. Traveling through many perils, such as a pair of Scylla-and-Charybdis like twin suns and the "birthplace of cosmic rays" which threatens his crew with its deadly radiation, Chris finally reaches the site of the lost moon. But as Halk and Jero rejoice at the success of their mission, Chris reflects, "I won't spoil their happiness now by telling them the terrible thing the instruments show! Later will be soon enough..."

The "terrible thing", apparently, is that the lost moon was once inhabited, but it is now dead, as all life on the moon perished when it hurtled through "cold, dark regions of space". But as Chris, Halk and Jero explore the dead city, they find a strange statue that seems to be warning them back, and then discover the world is not as dead as they think, as a "strange cloud of gas" freezes and immobilizes them and bald humanoids leap out and overwhelm them. Chris finds that he can understand the humanoids' language; "There must have once been contact between Earth and this moon, for the root language is the same!" (Yeah, right, after a million years the language is the same...) As our heroes are captured and imprisoned, the leader of the moon people Kyor explains that they are being punished for sacrilege for "going near the forbidden evil things". It seems that, ages ago, this moon and Earth's present moon were both inhabited by civilized races. But the two moons went to war, and and "great force-ray projectors" on the smaller moon turned the larger moon into the dead, crater-filled world it is today. But the recoil from the ray projectors hurled the smaller moon off into space, and the inhabitants survived only by burrowing into underground shelters Chris urges the moon people to free him and allow him to approach the "evil things"-- the ancient ray projectors--- but they refuse. Chris explains to his cohorts that the lost moon is in danger of destruction by a nearby "dark star". Then a shifty sort approaches the prisoners in their cell and offers to free them, for he realizes that the "evil things" are really scientific weapons that could help the moon people "master many worlds". Chris plays along, pretending to share the dreams of conquest, until he reaches the ancient weapons and figures out how to use them against the approaching "dark star". As Halk and Jero fight off Kyor's troops, Chris not only deflects the dark star but uses the ray weapons to "steer your world into an orbit around a warm sun!" As life returns to the lost moon's surface, Chris reflects, "It proves that the same powers that can doom a world can save a world-- if men know how to use them wisely!"